If you are breastfeeding or planning to breastfeed, hang in there. A Toronto-based study has found that new moms don’t breastfeed as long as they should for the optimal health of their babies.

“The goal is exclusive breastfeeding to six months because we know that confers the greatest health benefit for babies and mothers,” says Olga Jovkovic, a registered nurse and manager for Toronto Public Health’s Healthy Families program.

But the study, which surveyed 1,518 first-time moms, found that only 17.5 per cent stuck to that goal. Cracked nipples, painful over-swollen breasts and thinking that the baby isn’t getting enough milk can derail the efforts.

Breastfeeding is so healthy for babies. It reduces their risk for ear infections, gastrointestinal problems and colds.

It’s also somewhat protective against being overweight and developing diabetes later in life.

For moms there are benefits too. It reduces the risk of certain cancers such as ovarian and breast cancer, and also the risk for developing diabetes.

It is recommended by the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario and all levels of government in Canada, based on medical evidence, that women continue to breastfeed their babies, at least part-time, for at least two years.

The vast majority of women do initiate breastfeeding — 96 per cent, according to the Toronto study.

Most (73 per cent) continued at least some amount of breastfeeding for the next six months. This statistic is much lower in other parts of Ontario, where only about half of moms continued for six months.

Many women worry they don’t have enough breastmilk, and start supplementing with formula.

“Most women do in fact have enough milk. They just don’t recognize the signs that their baby is getting enough,” says Jovkovic.

Breastmilk is digested more easily than any other foods, so babies may wake up more frequently, but this doesn’t mean they’re not getting enough nutrition.

In fact, waking up — though tiring for the parents — is a good thing because it’s protective against sudden infant death syndrome, says Jovkovic.

To gage whether the baby is getting enough nutrition through breastmilk, nurses check how often the baby urinates, whether they seem satisfied after they feed, and whether they’re active and alert when they’re awake.

In every community, women can reach out for help from public health nurses, lactation consultants, midwives, clinics, and the Laleche league.

From research, experts know when problems such as cracked nipples and painful swollen breasts are most likely to arise, and can educate moms about how to solve them.

Often, it’s a question of modifying position and latch, says Jovkovic.